Upper Swainswick - Little Solsbury Hill - Charmy Down

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This is a figure-of-nine-shaped walk, steep in parts and passing through beautiful Cotswold hills and valleys, whilst taking the walker on a tour of the defensive 'state of the art' at two sites separated in time by two thousand years.

The first of these, Little Solsbury Hill-Fort, is a spectacular Iron Age defensive site just outside Bath and located at the most southerly end of the Cotswold ridge, where the River Avon has cut a steep valley. The location has been inhabited since 300BC when it was a defended village site with good visibility of intruders both from the Bath direction and towards the Marlborough Downs.

It is mercifully, directly inaccessible by car. Both because of the steep walk from the road and protection by the National Trust, it remains an unspoilt and quiet haven for wildlife and flowers, despite the proximity of the new A46 Batheaston bypass created in the 1990s amid local protests.

Certainly Peter Gabriel (a resident of Box just below the hill) was accurate in his lyrics for the song Solsbury Hill when he talks of viewing the city lights (of Bath) from it and can be forgiven poetic licence when he refers to an 'eagle (that) flew out of the night' - buzzards and other birds of prey are certainly still abundant. The grassland of the fort is home to skylarks and butterflies whilst the woods from the fort down and up the valley sides to Charmy Down are alive with deer and echo to the sound of woodpeckers. The peace and tranquillity of the valley contrasts with the man-made wartime structures visited next.

After climbing the valley side the route suddenly arrives at a defensive ring of pill-boxes, before passing along parts of the perimeter taxiways and down one of the grassed-over runways of the WWII airfield at Charmy Down. The remains of these military structures are gradually being reclaimed by nature and today are only used for peaceful purposes by a few microlight pilots and model aircraft enthusiasts.

In their day they were home mainly to night-fighters both of the the RAF and later the United States Army Air Force Ninth Air Force. The remains of the aircraft dispersal pens are still visible and the control tower still stands forlornly looking out across the site, with a few crumbling barracks and other buildings now serving as farm buildings. (Some structures are a bit newer, explained by the fact that the site was secretly prepared to accept a new radar system called Rotor at the height of the cold war but never made operational).

The route then drops down to the Monkswood Reservoir, a good picnic stop before returning to the car.

England - South West England - Somerset - Blackdown Hills

Features

Ancient Monument, Birds, Butterflies, Flowers, Great Views, Hills or Fells, National Trust, Public Transport, Wildlife, Woodland
06/09/2012 - Steve Laurenson

Enjoyable walk on a warm, sunny early September day. Charmy Down disused airfield is a big surprise on the plateau surrounded by steep hills and valleys - you would never know it was there from any of the roads around there. After such a wet summer the paths were very overgrown with nettles, particulary difficult was finding the path up Ramscombe Bottom (between 16 and 17).

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